As you can see from the trailer, the film is somewhat sentimental. Reviews that I read of the movie ranged from Miriam Bale's snarky and dismissive hit piece to slightly more appreciative pieces, like Justin Chang's review that calls the movie "warmly ingratiating" while admitting that the movie is somewhat superficial and at times "unexciting."
But I wonder how the film plays to different audiences. It seems to have been well-received in Taiwan, as well as in Hong Kong and South Korea (Chinese Wikipedia). It touches on some aspects of Taiwanese modern history, particularly the Japanese colonial period when some of the riders had been police or on opposing sides of the war between Japan and China. It might be that a reaction like Bale's is due at least in part to not understanding the whole context of the film. Bale claims (she doesn't support the statement, so I can't call it an argument) that what she calls "mystery" in the film comes "mostly from omission in the sometimes inept storytelling." But my guess is that anyone familiar with Taiwan's history--the primary audience of the film--would not find much mysterious about it. When one of the riders, a former Nationalist Chinese soldier, says that another rider, a Taiwanese lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese army, used to be enemies but that "a smile between brothers can melt enmity"(兄弟一笑泯恩仇), this seems no mystery to me (the question then being whether it's the director's responsibility to spoonfeed Taiwanese history to an American viewer like Bale).
It might be, too, that the style of the movie is also more suitable for some East Asian audiences than for American audiences. That's certainly a possibility, given the fact that the film was a winner at the Asian American International Film Festival and was nominated at the 17th Busan International Film Festival and the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. However, it's also interesting to observe that the most positive review I saw published was by Frank Scheck, in which he concludes,
The filmmaker documents the proceedings in refreshingly matter-of fact-fashion, thankfully avoiding the temptation to overly sentimentalize or mine cheap humor and contrived suspense from the proceedings. It somehow seems doubtful that an American director would have shown such restraint.I don't know much about Scheck besides the fact that he's described as an "American film critic," but he has a more understanding perspective on the film than Bale.
At any rate, I'll be interested to see how students in my Travel Writing online class respond to the movie. I'm putting together some questions for them to think about regarding the role of place vs. the role of the journey in the film. I'll have to think more about the questions, which will probably involve watching it again. Pass the Kleenex, please!